Regional and Inter-regional Cooperation for Sustainable Aquaculture Development1
Plenary Lecture III

[1]Lennox O. Hinds2 and [2]G. Beverley Bacon3

[1]Senior Advisor, Oceans, Marine Affairs and Fisheries
Policy Branch, Canadian International Development Agency,
Hull, Québec, Canada

[2]Head, Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture,
Research and Productivity Council,
Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

Hinds, L.O. & Bacon, G.B. 2001. Regional and inter-regional cooperation for sustainable aquaculture development, Plenary Lecture III. In R.P. Subasinghe, P. Bueno, M.J. Phillips, C. Hough, S.E. McGladdery & J.R. Arthur, eds. Aquaculture in the Third Millennium. Technical Proceedings of the Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium, Bangkok, Thailand, 20-25 February 2000. pp. 29-41. NACA, Bangkok and FAO, Rome.

ABSTRACT: The resources available for designing and implementing aquaculture development projects are no more immune from the current “down-sizing” trends than are those of most other publicly funded development initiatives. There is also an increasing onus on recipients to demonstrate greater accountability for their wise use. The aquaculture sector must now move towards development strategies which favour greater cooperation in collectively addressing the issues important to achieving sustainable development, not just in developing countries, but in all regions of the globe where aquatic animals and plants are farmed. To achieve a level of cooperation which emphasizes complementarity rather than duplication and competition, improved processes need to be identified to partition responsibilities fairly and equitably amongst existing agencies.

Cooperation first requires a focal point to give it life, and then a strategy to sustain it. It is suggested that the most effective focal points for regional development are the Regional Indigenous Organizations (RIOs). They are seen to be particularly important in taking the lead in regional development, since they have been established to serve their constituent member states, and thus have a strong sense of ownership, commitment and responsibility for development in their respective regions. Moreover, they already have a government-mandated framework upon which to structure programmes and projects. They can, therefore, be viewed as being the logical lead agencies around which sustainable development can be pursued. Accordingly then, as the focal point for functional cooperation, they can also be considered for taking on the coordinating role for regional programme participants, which may include: regional intra-governmental representation, universities and research institutes, private-sector interests, industry associations, regional chambers of commerce, nongovernmental organzations (NGOs) and others who have interests in aquaculture development. These same arguments hold true when considering inter-regional cooperation. There is much to be gained through inter-regional cooperation. Specific climatic, cultural or other features usually prevent “wholesale” transplantation of development programmes from one region to another. There are tremendous benefits to be derived from the greater understanding and cooperation made possible by expanding the development process to consider the inter-regional level.

KEY WORDS: Aquaculture, Development, Regional Cooperation, Inter-regional Cooperation




On a global scale, the resources available for designing and implementing aquaculture development projects are no more immune from the current “down-sizing” trends than are those of most other publicly funded development initiatives. This, despite the fact that aquaculture is being increasingly looked to by nations of the world to replace the declining resources of our oceans and inland waters. The impacts are being felt at all levels; donor and recipient governments alike are being told to “do more with less”. So too are intergovernmental organizations, such as specialized agencies within the United Nations (UN) system, intergovernmental organizations outside the UN system, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), financial institutions, the private sector and others who have traditionally contributed to development of the aquaculture sector. While it is not the message one wants to hear, it is nevertheless the operating principle that is likely to be with us for several years to come.

The message also has a corollary: not only are the resources shrinking in magnitude, but when and where they are made available, there is an increasing onus on recipients to demonstrate greater accountability for their wise use.

For the aquaculture sector, at least, we have come face-to-face with the reality that the “narrow view” is no longer acceptable, and that we must now move towards development strategies which favour greater cooperation in collectively addressing the issues important to achieving sustainable development, not just in developing countries, but in all regions of the globe where aquatic animals and plants are farmed. For years, decades even, we have spoken about a regional programming focus. While there are vivid examples of how regional programming can be effective, there is still a reluctance on the part of many nations to move from the more familiar and comfortable bilateral project perspective. Nevertheless, there is increasing pressure to do so and we must, therefore, respond.

This paper considers some of the elements important in achieving strong regional and inter-regional cooperation in aquaculture development. It reviews some features of existing regional approaches, offers suggestions for new approaches, and will hopefully provoke Conference participants to consider how they can promote and achieve greater cooperation within their own particular spheres of influence.


Elements of cooperation

Establishing Development Priorities

One of the key elements in measuring how effective we are at achieving cooperation relates to the process of how we go about setting priorities for development. This holds true at all levels: locally, nationally, and both intra-regionally and inter-regionally. With diminished resources available to us, the process through which development priorities are established must necessarily be rigorous and easily defendable from technical and economic, as well as political perspectives. As such, governments and agencies involved in aquaculture development initiatives are being increasingly vigilant to ensure that their decision-making processes satisfy these criteria. Inevitably, the numbers of worthy projects far outweigh the resources to support them. Clearly, stronger debate and greater wisdom are required to ensure that resources are not applied too thinly nor ineffectively in the hopes of broadening coverage, instead of allocating them to key constraints to development.

Long-term vs. short-term goal setting

Where the process of debate may have once focused on the short-term benefits to be achieved from development projects, in particular tangible assets such as new equipment, buildings and overseas visits to gather information - in effect the narrow view - this track is no longer in keeping with achieving the goals of sustainable development. In seeking to address the longer-term view, attention needs to be diverted from the more immediate tangible benefits to those achievable within a broader view. This requires a higher level of cooperative thinking and decision making, to ensure that the longer-term goals remain clearly in focus and that scarce internal resources are not side-tracked into achieving short-term objectives which, though they may momentarily appear attractive, are in reality, inconsistent with achieving the major goals.

Internal vs. external priority setting

Further, in formulating aquaculture development programmes, greater recognition needs to be given to the importance of ensuring that those priorities which are established are internally driven, and not ones that serve some external agency’s agenda, especially if that agenda is not consistent with the recipient’s established priorities for development.




This, in itself, is often difficult, since no one wishes to turn down assistance; however, if over the longer term, it means a delay in addressing the important priorities, great care needs to be exercized in proceeding along this path.

Development agencies - the UN system

On the regional scene, there are a number of levels of cooperation to consider. In Asia for example, there are the various specialized agencies of the UN system which have involvement, at some level, in aquaculture (including inland fisheries) development. These include the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission (FAO/APFIC), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Sub-Commission for the Western Pacific (IOC/SC-WESTPAC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and others.

Regional indigenous agencies (RIOs)

There are the regional indigenous organizations (RIOs), such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA), the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) and the South Pacific Forum (SPF), which are funded by their member states and, as well, attract programme and project funds from external sources. Included in the equation are the various country dialogue partners, who provide funding to bilateral and regional development projects; the regional financial institutions; education, training and research institutions; and private-sector interests, all of which are involved in development processes.

Complementing vs. competing

During the evolution of development agencies in Asia, or in any region, it is to be expected that, amongst them, there are some over-lapping, perhaps even competing interests. To achieve a level of cooperation which emphasizes complementarity rather than duplication and competition in positioning activities on their respective priority agendas, improved processes need to be identified to partition responsibilities fairly and equitably amongst existing agencies.


Areas for cooperation in aquaculture development

When considering topical areas for cooperation in aquaculture development, the following come to mind:

  • Exchange of coastal zone management strategies - how can we achieve sustainable aquaculture development while also protecting the quality of our coastal waters? Are there national or regional strategies which could serve as models for other areas?
  • Development and implementation of aquaculture policies - do all RIOs have an aquaculture development policy that recognizes specific needs and opportunities for aquaculture development? Or are aquaculture development activities included as an appendage of fisheries or agriculture? Are there existing models for national aquaculture policy which could be adapted into a regional format?
  • Marketing has strong proprietary implications for the private sector; nevertheless there is opportunity for generic marketing activities on a regional level that are in support of individual company efforts. Such activities as identification of new export-market opportunities, regional market promotion endeavours and other related activities would be acceptable to most companies.
  • The balance between food security for the domestic market and the need to earn foreign exchange currency through export of higher value products such as prawns and shrimp can be viewed in a regional context.
  • Control of transfer of exotic species - there is an obvious need to minimize the transfer of pathogens and diseases which may accompany movement of live aquatic animals and their products intra- and inter-regionally. Maintaining biosecurity also needs to be considered in terms of the policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as in terms of the practicalities and considerable costs associated with establishing and maintaining biosecurity zones.
  • While most nations have their own extension programmes developed and implemented internally, the commonalities of aquaculture within regions, and in some cases between regions, would suggest that there are real advantages to focusing on more cooperative approaches. This would apply to the training and education of extension workers, as well as to the delivery of their services.





  • For aquaculture chemicals, therapeutants and other treatment products, there is a strong need for regional cooperation in establishing acceptable treatment strategies which meet the needs of the grower, as well as recognize the requirement for environmental sustainability. There needs to be cooperation on which products are acceptable; what limits should be permissible in target and non-target organisms, and in the surrounding environment; how to monitor and enforce compliance; and on how to develop policy and legislation that support the technical requirements. Cooperation involves regional authorities from the exporting states, as well as authorities from the importing states or region. In many cases, there are already existing limits imposed by importing countries. Even so, there is a need for regional cooperative strategies to determine how to meet these limits, especially since rejection or detention from one member state of the region may place others under suspicion. Representatives of the companies manufacturing the products should also be considered in the equation, since they should be included when it comes to supporting the costs for demonstrating efficacy. Clearly, because of the cost of the equipment and activities involved, it makes more sense to have one regional centre to address these types of problems, rather than leaving it to each country to establish its own centre(s).
  • For other areas of research and development, including husbandry and farm systems, education and training, communications and information dissemination, postharvest technology and social dimensions, it has already been demonstrated that regional cooperation offers significant economies of scale.
  • When committed to regional cooperation, there are also benefits to be gained in terms of maintaining focus on the political and priority agenda levels. Once agreed to at the regional level, it is more difficult for a member state to unilaterally declare a separate agenda that is inconsistent with the region as a whole.

Inter-regional cooperation

It is now also clear from previous gatherings, such as the 1997 CIDA Regional Oceans Programmes Workshop (Hinds, 1998), that there is much to be gained through inter-regional cooperation. Specific climatic, cultural or other features usually prevent “wholesale” transplantation of development programmes from one region to another. However, it is acknowledged that there are tremendous benefits to be derived from the greater understanding and cooperation made possible by expanding the development process to consider the inter-regional level. While geographic distances remain considerable, the advent of the World Wide Web has done much to shrink distances “virtually” and permit opportunity for “south-south” sharing of knowledge, relative to the opportunities and constraints facing people and organizations engaged in aquaculture development in all regions of the globe.

While this particular workshop focused on seven regional projects not specifically devoted to aquaculture, the aim was to arrive at some generic “lessons learned” in regional programme development, and then to examine how these could be applied to the development of subsequent regional projects. This was the first time in which participants from five of CIDA’s regional projects were gathered together to formally present their experiences with their projects and how, from a recipient’s perspective, the process could be improved. There were 160 participants from over 40 countries - over one-third of whom were women - representing a considerable range of experiences, ideas and approaches.

The five projects represented West Africa (Dioh, 1998), the Caribbean (Saul, 1998), Southeast Asia (Tan, 1998; Jusoh, 1998) and the South Pacific (Maiava, 1998). In addition to the project participants themselves, there were representatives of multilateral and bilateral donor agencies, agencies of the UN, NGOs, the private sector and the universities.





Coming out of this forum was a fresh view of the importance of establishing a strong understanding of how partners develop synergy through cooperation in project design, implementation and measuring progress. The bringing together of the delegates was viewed as the beginning of a process of advancing communications and understanding of how to improve the cooperation required to achieve better designed and delivered projects.
  • With the emphasis on cooperation, most of the lessons learned (Hinds and Bacon, 1998) are directly applicable to sustainable aquaculture development, since they relate to how donors and recipients can interact between and amongst each other to achieve stronger projects. Some of these lessons for the future include: A key ingredient for project success is ensuring input from all stakeholders, particularly the target audience (growers) during all phases of a project, but especially during the design phases. Experience has indicated that when the target audience is excluded from the design process, the project usually encounters considerable difficulty in implementation. When this occurs, there is tremendous loss of development momentum, since the project either needs to be halted for redesign purposes, or in the worst cases, the project fails to achieve its objectives.
  • During project formulation, there needs to be strong regional cooperation in selecting activity centres. There also needs to be regional agreement concerning postproject support for operation of the centres. If regional support is withdrawn at the conclusion of the project, and if the host country alone is left to support the operations, chances for successful continuation of the centre’s activities will likely be threatened. Conversely, host countries need to ensure that project centres visibly project a “regional persona” and are not seen as having a national focus.
  • Greater cooperation and coordination need to be exhibited when, as often occurs, several projects are being designed or implemented simultaneously in a region. There is a tendency for projects to become compartmentalized with linkages restricted to between specific donors and recipients rather than amongst them. In many instances, the opportunities for synergism are overlooked because the coordinating agencies are not fully aware of other projects or are too narrowly focused on the activities of a single project.
  • While events such as this CIDA workshop are not inexpensive, the argument can be made that periodic gatherings of regional project participants are a wise development strategy. Direct discussions amongst regional project participants are more likely to achieve inter-regional cooperation than if it is imposed by external dialogue partners or agencies.

Cooperation - how do we “programme” it?

Clearly, cooperation does not happen uni-laterally; it first requires a focal point to give it life, and then a strategy to sustain it. Looking first at the focal point, there are a number of options that could be considered, depending on which agency takes the lead. These could include specific dialogue partners, specialized agencies of the UN, regional financial institutions and perhaps others. However, other than the regional financial institutions, none of these has an exclusive focus on a particular region. As for regional financial institutions, they are lending agencies and their primary focus is not necessarily directed at the detailed strategies involved in sustainable development.

Regional indigenous organizations as the lead agencies for regional and inter-regional cooperation

It is suggested here, that the most effective focal points for regional development are the RIOs. RIOs are seen to be particularly important in taking the lead in regional development since, having been established to serve their constituent member states, they have a strong sense of ownership, commitment and responsibility for development in their respective regions. Moreover, they already have a government-mandated framework upon which to structure programmes and projects. They can, therefore, be viewed as being the logical lead agencies around which sustainable development can be pursued. Accordingly then, as the focal point for functional cooperation, they can also be considered for taking on the coordinating role for regional programme participants, which may include: regional intra-governmental representation, universities and research institutes, private-sector interests, industry associations, regional chambers of commerce, NGOs and others who have interests in aquaculture development.




These same arguments hold true when considering inter-regional cooperation. While it is acknowledged that some RIOs are more developed than others, this only emphasizes the need to include greater inter-RIO dialogue when considering the strategy for achieving sustainability.

Elements of “Sustainability”

Technical imperatives and associated resources

Key elements in the formulation of a sustainable aquaculture development strategy focus on the technical imperatives that need to be addressed, and on marshalling the human and other resources needed to build the elements of the strategy. It is important to recognize that the technical aspects of development cannot be achieved with any lasting effect unless consideration is first given to the institutional architecture needed to support them. All of this needs to be considered within an organizational framework that favours institutional strengthening, capacity building and service delivery with a long-term view. There are plenty of examples of projects that were implemented with too much emphasis placed on the technical contributions of foreign experts, rather than on transferring their expertise and experience to counterparts who have the long-term responsibility for ensuring sustainability. Wherever failure occurred in development projects, it is usually apparent that the technical initiatives were not accompanied by development of the indigenous capacity and capability which would ensure continuation of the project benefits after the departure of foreign experts. The result is that subsequent “trips to the well” were required to ‘sustain’ the previous project. This clearly is not an acceptable definition of “sustainability”.

Institutional strengthening and capacity building

In identifying the key elements of a human resource strategy for achieving sustainable aquaculture development, the focus needs to be on institutional strengthening and capacity building. These are clear prerequisites for better resource management and physically improving the regional development process. Paraphrasing Watson (1998), who discusses institutional strengthening in terms of environmental management, one could suggest the following for sustainable aquaculture development:

  • From a project design and implementation perspective, traditional thinking needs to be revised. Where capacity-building projects previously measured achievement of objectives somewhat subjectively, a results-based management (RBM) approach requires that such projects have a strong objective component and that the results achieved are linked to demonstrable improvements in the state of aquaculture development.
  • This “new order” implies that project designers must be able to rely on having the appropriate policies in place to support this process of institutional building, and as such, must also have the human intellectual skills available to develop, implement, measure and analyse success towards achieving sustainability.
  • Effective policy decisions are the institutional basis for sustainable aquaculture development. As such, when developing policy there is a need for strong communication, cooperation and coordination amongst the RIOs, the education and research institutions and the business community. In assigning the mandate for project development and management to reside with the RIOs, they will then look: i) to the research and education institutions to provide the intellect and innovation needed to improve the technology and methodology, and ii) to the business community to translate it into sustainable aquaculture production.

As a strategy for sustainable capacity building, institutional strengthening requires advisors and counterparts to prepare a comprehensive action plan that is specifically targeted at the resolution of important aquaculture development constraints, or at taking advantage of development opportunities. This process can be considered in two phases:

  • Phase I is an outwardly looking “situation assessment” where needs are assessed; priorities for development agreed upon; objectives for capacity building established; and anticipated improvements identified, assuming the objectives are achieved. Strategically, resources need to be targeted at filling institutional gaps rather than being dispersed over a range of secondary activities which cannot be achieved without the critically important institutional strengthening being considered first.





  • Phase II is the inwardly looking “baseline assessment” in which institutional
  • constraints facing people and organizations responsible for development are identified. In addressing this phase, the role of the advisors is to assist their counterparts in improving their capabilities through analysis, planning, training and providing opportunities to gain hands-on experience in situations that can be monitored and evaluated objectively using some previously established and accepted performance standards.

A rigorous approach to institutional strengthening is a prerequisite to preventing so called “strategic drift”, i.e. fading of original clear-cut objectives and dissipation of targeted resources over a broader range of activities. “Successful implementation of strategy requires that the long-term project objectives are kept in view, activities and outputs are linked to expected outcomes and that frequent journeys down side-tracks without clear objectives, priorities or endpoints are avoided” (Watson 1998).

Framework to support technical activities

In terms of the technical imperatives, “sustainability”, in itself, can be viewed from at least three perspectives:

  • The first relates to all of the technical components of aquaculture development.
  • The technical components must be set in a framework which promotes economical production, considers social obligations to development, and of course, ensures environmental sustainability.
  • The last perspective has both an internal and external component; first, aquaculture operations need to adopt practices that are at least environmentally neutral; and secondly, surrounding industrial and domestic activities must themselves be environmentally neutral to prevent detrimental impacts on nearby farms.

Linkage - environmental sustainability and sustainable aquaculture development

Inexorably, sustainability in aquaculture development is linked to environmental sustainability. Much has been studied and written about the need for more vigilance in maintaining an equilibrium between the needs of the shrimp growers and the need to protect coastal mangrove areas as critical nursery habitat for marine species and as an important ecological buffer between tropical marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

  This issue, together with others relating to environmental degradation linked directly to aquaculture development, has gained considerable profile and is thus well placed on priority agendas for consideration.

Policy and legislation support technical initiatives

A second aspect of “sustainability” relates to the policies and legislation that are created to support scientific and technical developments. The establishment of regional environmental, aquatic animal health, transportation and other criteria for aquaculture operations is only truly useful if they are given some effect in law. In formulating sustainable aquaculture strategies, it is important to recognize the downstream legislative process as an integral, though perhaps subsequent, component of the process. The argument can be made that the technical developments may be the easier of the two to accomplish, since legislative development is likely to have many external competing factors that could delay promulgation. This, then, makes a strong case for the focus on RIOs, since they can provide a responsible forum for building credible regional development strategies to promote and protect aquaculture development. RIOs can serve as effective vehicles for consensus building that includes “bottom-up” input at the national level, integrated with an effective “top-down” management function when extended to the regional level.

Sustainability and international profile

The third aspect of “sustainability” relates to its international profile. As indicated earlier, development funds are limited, and competition for them is vigorous. Most nations within a region share similar problems and opportunities in aquaculture development. The bilateral approach is now viewed as economically inefficient, as well as being too time-consuming if one considers sequential nation-by-nation, project-by-project aquaculture development. Accordingly, cogent arguments can be made for focusing on RIOs which have been assigned strong mandates from their member nations for aquaculture development, and which have equitable arrangements for division of responsibilities among themselves and individual member states, as well as amongst other RIOs within the same region that may have overlapping interests.




As a regional instrument of a group of cooperating governments, a RIO projects a strong image which is the summation of all its member states. Enabled by their charters, RIOs can serve as effective focal points for the development and implementation of regional policy and regulation to support a coordinated approach to sustainable aquaculture development. In doing so, they can also develop, project and sustain a strong regional image of aquaculture as a responsible activity with demonstrated commitment to achieving “best practices”, even when some member states, which may be less well developed, are having difficulty in attaining regional performance targets. With the encouragement and support of other members of the RIO, less well-developed states have a greater chance of achieving sustainable development than if they were left to do so on their own.

a successful regional development project - an example for model consideration

An example of a successful regionally implemented project focusing on sustainable development is the ASEAN-Canada Cooperative Program On Marine Science (CPMS-II) 1992-1998 (Vigers, pers. comm.). This project also embodies many of the features which have been identified above as being important elements in a successful strategy for regional cooperation. Paraphrasing Vigers (pers. comm.), some of the highlights of the project are as follows:

  • The goal of CPMS-II was to support ASEAN’s own regional effort to cooperatively optimize its marine resource-based benefits while also maintaining resource integrity and promoting human health protection.
  • The broad objective was to upgrade ASEAN marine science capabilities through a programme of training initiatives and through the hands-on execution of three major technical activities:
    - development of tropical marine environmental quality criteria,
    undertaking pollution monitoring and baseline studies, and
    - investigation of toxic red tides, which cause contamination of shellfish, marine fish kills and human deaths.

Participants were from government depart-ments, a university and a research institute representing the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam. Project outputs included:

  • through the delivery of more than 100 workshops, technical studies and case studies to over 830 participants, a strengthened ASEAN understanding, technical knowledge and institutional capacity in marine environmental management leading to greater recognition of the need to work regionally;
  • strengthening of human resource skills, knowledge and technical capabilities through the placement of graduate student trainees, short-term training attachments and study tours;
  • establishment of a cadre of ASEAN specialists, and the development of a networking system amongst them;
  • formulation of a common set of ASEAN marine environmental quality criteria for key environmental parameters;development of toxicity testing and analytical protocols that are contributing to data comparability and reliability within the region;
  • regional agreement on standard methods, procedures and quality analysis/quality control (QA/QC) methods for sampling and analyses;
  • identification of regional marine environmental quality targets and establishment of regional baseline data sets;
  • establishment of a red tide surveillance and advisory network;
  • an increasingly harmonized approach to regulatory implementation monitoring, enforcement and policy development in marine environmental management that recognizes the conflicting needs of industrial development, population and economic growth, as well as ecological sustainability; and
  • closer technical cooperation between Canada and ASEAN.

One of the key features of this project, which has particular relevance to sustainable aquaculture development, concerns the management strategy for the project. Specifically, the Canadian Executing Agency (CEA) adopted an advisory role to the Project Steering Committee and Technical Working Groups.




The CEA, working in a consultative manner, administered funds on behalf of CIDA, sourced technical specialists to be made available to the project, maintained overall project momentum, and provided an assistant project coordinator to help in managing and administering the many project activities occurring in the region from the Project Execution Centre located within the Department of Fisheries, Government of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.

However, the Project Coordinator was selected by ASEAN, and the direction of the project and the forces impacting on its focus were very definitely ASEAN. This was in keeping with the project design philosophy of having ASEAN assume the lead role when it came to responsibility for the conduct of the project. This approach was possible because ASEAN, as a well-structured RIO, has the strength needed to assume this level of responsibility. As it turns out, this approach was successful. Moreover, when analysing the inputs to human resource development and physical resources dedicated to the project, it was evident that for every two dollars Canada contributed to the project, ASEAN contributed three dollars.

A regional sustainable aquaculture development strategy for consideration

It is fitting, though not coincidental, that we are discussing models for regional sustainable aquaculture development, here in Asia. After all, it is generally agreed that aquaculture had its beginnings in Asia, probably at least two millennia ago. Moreover, in terms of RIOs, it is generally agreed that Asian organizations have probably achieved a higher level of development to date, than those in other parts of the globe. Accordingly, looking eventually at inter-regional strategies as a means of promoting greater sustainability in aquaculture development, it makes sense to first ensure that there is a solid model in at least one region upon which to build future initiatives.

Synthesising the elements from the foregoing discussion, we would suggest that the following are the major considerations in designing a regional strategy for sustainable aquaculture development:

A RIO as lead agency

For all of the reasons indicated earlier in this discussion, a suitable RIO to take the lead in the development process is a primary consideration.


  In Asia, there are currently three RIOs (NACA, SEAFDEC, ASEAN) with strong ties to aquaculture development. Of these, NACA with its regional network of centres, is seen as being the focal point for a strong regional approach to aquaculture development. There are several reasons to support this suggestion, including NACA’s:
  • exclusive focus on aquaculture development through regional cooperation;
  • approximately 20 member and participating nations encompass most of the people of Asia;
  • ability to provide the “bottom-up” elements from an R&D perspective;
  • endorsement by FAO and the confidence of other agencies; and
  • experience in designing and delivering effective R&D programmes.

It makes sense then, that with this profile and level of regional representation, favourable consideration needs to be given to NACA as a lead agency.

However, consideration needs also be given to the other two RIOs. SEAFDEC has a well-developed aquaculture programme and a strong history of institutional strengthening in partnership with the governments of its member states. Moreover, SEAFDEC also has considerable experience in technology transfer initiatives. Specifically, many of SEAFDEC’s pilot-scale projects have involved bridging the gap between the R&D institution laboratory bench level, and commercialization through an industry partner. As a facilitator of aquaculture industrial development, SEAFDEC too, clearly has an important role to play as a lead agency for development.

ASEAN is a formal political organization representing governments of seven countries, has close ties with other countries in the region, and has well-established connections to multilateral and other development organizations. As such, ASEAN will be important in providing the political leadership to keep aquaculture development high on the priority agenda. To subsequently enable specific development initiatives, ASEAN will also be important in ensuring that funds are sourced, either internally or in partnership with other NACA members, or in broader partnerships involving bilateral and multilateral development agencies.




It is concluded then, that while all three RIOs are currently pursuing aquaculture development in Asia, that a more synergistic approach focused on complementing each other’s strengths could be achieved through a partnership involving the technical and institutional strengths of NACA and SEAFDEC, combined with the political expertise resident within ASEAN. One could envisage the aquaculture development initiatives undertaken by these three organizations being integrated and consolidated in a manner which would give a more effective regional voice to sustainable aquaculture development issues.

It is suggested that initially there needs to be a forum in which senior representatives of NACA, SEAFDEC and ASEAN can meet to explore possibilities and hopefully develop a common front on approaches to sustainable aquaculture development in Asia. Also included in the forum could be traditional dialogue partners, FAO and other specialized agencies who would be viewed as critical to the process of establishing the priority agendas for regional development. Such a high profile forum, aimed at consolidating regional efforts in aquaculture development, should also emit positive signals to attract regional and global support for initiatives emanating from this cooperative approach.

Assuming that an agreement can be reached, the next step could be a five-year pilot programme designed to permit the integration and consolidation process to proceed on an experimental basis. This would provide an adequate timeframe in which to work through the various issues associated with the move in this direction. The intention here is that NACA, SEAFDEC and ASEAN would carry on their normal work programmes, but would also focus on determining how they can optimize combined expertise to accelerate development, as well as reorganize activities amongst themselves to avoid duplication of effort. For example, there could be “trade-offs” in the form of one agency taking the lead for a specific technical initiative, with others adopting support roles. This would not only reduce duplication in the system, but could enhance complementary activities, in place of competition.

Setting priority agendas

Placing aquaculture high on the priority list of regional development initiatives will be a rigorous exercise in consensus building. Nevertheless, the proposed NACA/SEAFDEC partnership with support from ASEAN would have considerable experience and expertise in this regard.


The principal task will be designing and implementing the process by which development initiatives can be moved from scientific and technical design, through the bureaucratic level, to the political level where they can garner greater profile and compete more effectively with other issues on the political agenda. This proposed strategy, which also provides for appropriate monitoring and evaluation, is illustrated in Figure 1. It is envisaged that the chain of events in the process may resemble the following: The private sector identifies the need for a particular research and development initiative, which has generic implications for the industry as a whole, or for some subsector of it. For example, a particular disease issue in a farmed species may require better diagnostic and treatment strategies, or some other issue that, when addressed adequately, can improve the standard of aquaculture in general. The need is communicated to the RIOs.

  • NACA/SEAFDEC, with their expertise in undertaking R&D programmes, identify the technical elements required to address the issues; compare these to the inventories of specialists within their member centres, and prepare the project design. If external expertise is required, this would be identified at this stage. A commercialization strategy would also be included, using private-sector participation to ensure that results from the R&D component are translated into commercial benefits.
  • SEAFDEC, with its expertise in the commercialization of R&D initiatives, would play a lead role in this aspect of the programme.
    ASEAN’s political expertise would be enlisted to move the technical plan forward for consideration by the appropriate bureaucratic levels (usually by economic planning units of representative regional governments).
  • When senior bureaucratic approval is received, ASEAN would be enlisted to move the process to the political level for approval. In doing so, consideration would also be given to strategies for publicising the initiative in a way which is likely to favour a positive political decision. For instance, assuming that there are to be spin-off benefits to the aquaculture service sector and others, the support of regional chambers of commerce could be enlisted to help promote or endorse the agenda.
  • Following approvals, project implementation of the technical components through NACA/SEAFDEC, and then the commercialization components through NACA/SEAFDEC and the private-sector partner(s) would proceed.







  • At appropriate points throughout the project, ASEAN coordinates internal and external monitoring and evaluation activities.
  • It is expected that the project, when completed, will demonstrate a measurable advance in development, and address the specific needs identified at the start.
  • The model is cyclical in nature and thus provides for sequences of project initiatives all directed at moving sustainable development forward.

In moving the priority “through the system” in this manner, there is good opportunity for integrating the bottom-up concerns, prominent at the local and national levels, with a more benevolent top-down management approach necessary for a successful regional approach to cooperation.

Institutional strengthening and capacity building

As indicated earlier in this paper, successful programmes have focused on these elements as a means of ensuring sustainability. While most human resource development has focused on providing graduate and postgraduate training to incumbents in specific programmes, consideration should also be given to more formal university and technical institutional curricula focusing on aquaculture development. If there is stronger formalized grounding provided in the fundamentals of aquaculture development, counterparts would be better prepared, and existing operations would be better able to absorb new project activities into their line operations.

While there is a need to continue to develop the academic ranks of aquaculture specialists who will undertake R&D projects in universities, research institutes and government laboratories, there is also a need to focus on the training required for aquaculturists whose career path will be towards operations and management of commercial ventures. Accordingly, while their curriculum will include many of the same subjects as those of the scientific and technical specialists, they would also focus attention on the practical aspects of aquaculture operations, including resource engineering, geotechnical topics, environmental sciences, aquatic animal health and nutrition management, husbandry, and especially business management.

  The latter is to ensure that they develop the capacity to evaluate and integrate attractive technical innovations into a company’s operations, within the limits allowed by the company’s financial strength.

Extending the model regionally and inter-regionally

NACA’s member and participating states include several nations outside Southeast Asia. Thus, while the first step in building a stronger regional approach to sustainable aquaculture development may be on the “sub-region” of Southeast Asia, the ultimate intent is that the structural elements of the new partnership can be extended to other states in the region, through NACA’s central coordinating role.

Following the development of this “Asia model”, it is conceivable that a forum could be held in which RIOs from other areas of the globe would gather to consider how this particular model could be shaped to address other regions’ needs for sustainable aquaculture development. Here, it is envisaged that the process utilized is as important as the results achieved. Specifically, assuming that such a model comes to life, it would be particularly useful for other RIOs to be able to share the experiences encountered as it develops. This would allow them to develop some context of how analogous models could be developed in their own regions.

Even better than waiting for successful development of the currently proposed model, would be to share the experiences inter-regionally, as they are encountered. This would provide for more inter-regional dialogue, more rapid dissemination of useful information, and serve as a catalyst for the overall thrust of greater inter-regional cooperation in aquaculture development.

Ultimately, a more efficient and productive approach to cooperation in sustainable aquaculture development will translate into visibly positive actions with respect to addressing the existing global protein deficit problem.





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1 The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not reflect those of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
2 [email protected]
3 [email protected]